Last week, Charissa Thompson opened her yap on the podcast Pardon My Take and, for reasons still largely not understood by the rest of us, thought it was super-cute to admit that she has, in the past, made up sideline reports. How adorable!
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“I’ve said this before, so I haven’t been fired for saying it, but I’ll say it again. I would make up the report sometimes because A, the coach wouldn’t come out at halftime or it was too late and I was like, ‘I didn’t want to screw up the report,’ so I was like, ‘I’m just going to make this up,’” Thompson said on the podcast.
“First of all no coach is going to get mad if I say, ‘Hey, we need to stop hurting ourselves, we need to be better on third down, we need to stop turning the ball over and do a better job of getting off the field.’ Like, they’re not going to correct me on that,” she explained. “So I’m like it’s fine, I’m just going to make up the report.”
After a significant amount of backlash on social media from journalists who A, take their jobs seriously and B, find it offensive to lie to the public, Thompson put out a statement half-heartedly walking her comments back, but the damage was already done.
“When on a podcast this week, I said I would make up reports early in my career when I worked as a sideline reporter before I transitioned to my current host role,” Thompson said. “Working in the media I understand how important words are and I chose wrong words to describe the situation. I’m sorry. I have never lied about anything or been unethical during my time as a sports broadcaster,” she wrote.
So where to even start with this?
First off, what is Charissa Thompson doing on a Barstool-affiliated podcast, considering that Barstool made their name, in large part, off misogyny, harassing women, and assuring the “cool girls” that they are, in fact, cool, and it’s the people pointing out their record of sexism that are actually the problem? Thompson calls other sideline reporters “some of her best friends,” but Tracy Wolfson has been targeted by Barstool before. So has Sam Ponder. So have dozens of other women working in sports media. (Full disclosure: I’ve also been targeted by Barstool for years.)
Pour one out for the sisterhood, I guess.
But secondly, there are so many things ethically wrong with Thompson admitting that she made up reports that she then disseminated to a mass audience. Your job as a journalist is not to find something, anything, to say, but to report what is actually going on. Looking at reporting as filling air time or having to have to say something when the camera is on you isn’t the job. The job is to get information to the viewers, and veteran sideline reporter Laura Okmin explained beautifully how to handle coaches that won’t speak or be interviewed during the game, blowing Thompson’s “Sometimes they won’t talk to me!” defense right out of the water.
Okmin has told me in the past that she, and most sideline reporters, do just as much prep during the week for the game as the team in the broadcast booth. She pours over the same stat sheets, sits in on the same meetings, does the same interviews. Yet she has to figure out how to get massive amounts of information about, not just the game but the team and its players, to an audience, in an easily digestible format in less than a minute. That is a job that takes real skill, dedication and hustle. By way of exposition, please enjoy this video of ESPN’s Molly McGrath absolutely hauling ass (in heels) to get the post-game interview:
“But so what? We never get any info from sideline reporters anyway. Who cares?” Such was the refrain from a certain faction of the fanbase following Thompson’s comments. I’m not sure how to explain to people that reporters lying to the public is something they should care about, but here we are. Secondly, you need only think back to Kaylie Hartung’s reporting on Joe Burrow’s season-ending injury on Thursday night or Lisa Salters on the field during Damar Hamlin’s collapse on national television to know that’s not true.
Thompson justifying her fake reporting by claiming that “no one will get mad at me” for it is so revealing of how she views sports journalism that she should probably lose her job over it. How can anyone trust any information she imparts to the audience again? A journalist’s job is not to remain in the good graces of those she covers, especially not NFL head coaches and players, though I will acknowledge the incestuous relationship between pro sports and broadcast “partners” these days. But the fact that Thompson seems to think the primary problem with making up false reports is a coach being mad at her is revelatory.
I’m not going to take us down the road of “broadcasters” versus “journalists.” We all know that sports media long ago made the calculation that women on the airwaves have to be attractive, in addition to working twice as hard as their male counterparts to be taken seriously, and that determination has led to a lot of people who don’t necessarily care about the ethics of reporting getting into the field. It’s clear that women in sports media still have to work harder than their male colleagues in order even get a foot in the door, much less a prime role in an NFL broadcast. Thompson coming out and admitting how unseriously she takes her job, a job thousands of women would kill to have, feels like a slap in the face to every single woman working in sports media — from high school sports to the pros, no matter what medium they work in.
There’s a war on journalists happening across our country and around the world. So far in 2023, 60 journalists have been killed on the job. T-shirts advocating the killing of journalists are in mainstream circulation and available for purchase as we speak. Elon Musk, the owner of X, has regularly denigrated actual journalists and promoted “citizen journalism,” which is not fact-checked, sourced, edited, or corroborated. A large portion of the American public thinks journalists lie and make up information, even though anyone who has worked for a legitimate outlet will tell you is not true. Yes, the media does get stories wrong now and then. But failure and fabrication are not the same things. Charissa Thompson just gave all those who believe journalists are liars and fabulists an entire podcast to hang their hats on.
So here’s to the Laura Okmins, Suzy Kolbers, and Tracy Wolfsons. Here’s to the Pam Olivers and Andrea Kremers and Lesley Vissers. Here’s to the Lisa Salters and Kristina Pinks and Molly McGraths, the Kaylee Hartungs, Karthryn Tappens, and Melissa Starks. To all the women working in sports media who do their (too often thankless) jobs with integrity and tenacity and poise — thank you.